New Zealand strangled the Lions at the scrum and lineout, demolishing the tourists’ plans to dominate the tight exchanges in their 30-15 win at Auckland’s Eden Park.
Assistant coach Steve Borthwick had challenged the Lions to become the best forward pack on the planet to stand a chance against the world champion All Blacks. Head coach Warren Gatland wanted the Lions to “suffocate” New Zealand, but in the end the tourists were comprehensively bested in the physicality stakes.
“I always find it amusing when people tell us they are going to beat us up in the tight five,” said All Blacks coach Hansen. “We can play down and dirty rugby too if we have to. And I mean down and dirty in the most respectful way. I thought our tight five were very, very good. If the tight five do the job everyone else can play.
“Tonight’s Test was always going to be won in the tight five. We won that battle.
“We’ve got to be extremely proud of what they did. You don’t become the number one side in the world without having a quality tight five.”
The Test almost became a role reversal in styles, the All Blacks rejecting the fluent offloading game to get the job done – and the Lions conjuring serious flair, but without the grunt work required for a win.
The Lions will now face the Hurricanes in Wellington on Tuesday before next weekend’s second Test at the Westpac Stadium.
Gatland admitted the tourists simply have to harden up in their tight five to stand any chance of reversing this major setback.
“We need to be much more physical next week; that was disappointing,” he said. “The All Blacks sacked our mauls very well; we need to negate that. And there was one scrum that’s caught us as well. We need to be better at the set-piece.
“The All Blacks tight five were very good, but we need to be tough on ourselves and honest in our performance. A lot of those things are fixable. We know what to expect for next week.”
Insisting the Lions can still hit back against the imperious All Blacks, Gatland took a mild swipe at New Zealand’s prosaic approach.
Asked if the Lions can still force a close series, Gatland replied: “Absolutely. I thought we created some great chances, played some lovely rugby and scored some nice tries. And the All Blacks haven’t exactly played champagne rugby and thrown the ball all over the place. There were a couple of golden moments that we could have taken and we just switched off when they caught us on a quick tap penalty for a try. Elliot Daly said he got caught in no-man’s land there.
“And from a kick the ball’s gone through Liam Williams’ hands. That’s fixable. And the other try is from a scrum advantage where we missed a first-up tackle.
“We’d come under a bit of pressure in the first half. If we’d scored after half-time that’s 13-13. That’s an interesting take on the game.”